Unclear Physics: Why Iraq and Libya Failed to Build Nuclear Weapons

Many authoritarian leaders want nuclear weapons, but few manage to acquire them. Autocrats seeking nuclear weapons fail in different ways and to varying degrees—Iraq almost managed it; Libya did not come close. In this seminar, Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer compares the two failed nuclear weapons programs, arguing that state capacity played a crucial role in the trajectory and outcomes of both projects. This analysis is based on a rich set of new primary sources, collected during years of research in archives, fieldwork across the Middle East, and interviews with scientists and decision makers from both states. The analysis reveals contemporary perspectives from scientists and regime officials on the opportunities and challenges facing each project. Many of the findings challenge the conventional wisdom about clandestine weapons programs in closed authoritarian states, particularly the level of oversight and control by regime officials, and offers novel arguments about their prospects of success or failure.

Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Oslo. She has previously been a Junior Faculty Fellow at CISAC, Stanford University, and a pre- and post-doctoral fellow at the Belfer Center, Harvard University. She received her doctoral degree from London School of Economics in 2009, which received the Michael Nicholson Thesis Prize from BISA in 2010. Her work has been published in numerous outlets including International Security, The Middle East Journal, the New York Times (online), International Herald Tribune, Monkey Cage and War on the Rocks. Her first book, Unclear Physics, was reviewed in The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, Survival, International Affairs, and Babylon.


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Wednesday, September 13
3:30pm - 5:00pm

5th Floor Conference Room

Directions

Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Phone: 202.691.4000

NPIHP@wilsoncenter.org

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